Friday, October 30, 2009

Sony stays in the red, trims annual loss forecast

TOKYO -- Sony reported a smaller-than-expected 26.3 billion yen ($289 million) quarterly loss as cost cuts combined with healthy sales of PlayStation 3 game consoles and Michael Jackson hits helped it inch toward recovery.

The Japanese electronics and entertainment giant has been battered by the global slowdown, sliding prices of gadgets and its failure to produce new blockbuster consumer products. But Tokyo-based Sony Corp. said Friday it now expects a smaller flow of red ink for the full fiscal year through March 2010.

It's forecasting a 95 billion yen ($1 billion) loss compared with the initial projection for a 120 billion yen ($1.3 billion) loss. The new forecast is marginally better than the 98.9 billion yen loss it suffered the previous fiscal year.

Chief Executive Howard Stringer has promised a turnaround at Sony since taking the helm in 2005, but convincing results have been slow in coming.

Stringer has appointed a new and younger management team that he says will better bring together Sony's sprawling empire, including gaming, electronics and entertainment.

A Welsh-born American and the first foreigner to head Sony, Stringer has carried out aggressive cost cuts, shutting plants, reducing suppliers and slashing jobs by the thousands. But the global economic slump and lack of hit products like Apple's iPhone and Nintendo's Wii have hampered recovery efforts.

Sony said it managed to turn a profit in the July-September quarter at its core electronics and device business. But Sony acknowledged its liquid crystal display TVs and game machine computer chip businesses continued to be hurt by intensifying price competition.

The perk Sony got from nostalgic demand for Jackson albums following his death in June wasn't enough to offset the losses in its other divisions.

Other best-selling albums for the quarter included Whitney Houston's "I Look To You" and the King of Leon's "Only By The Night," Sony said in a statement.

A strong yen, which diminishes the overseas earnings of Japanese exporters, erased 77 billion yen ($846 million) from Sony's quarterly operating profit.

The rising yen hurt Sony's gaming business despite stronger sales of the PlayStation 3, which got a lift from a recent price cut. Sony sold 3.2 million PlayStation 3 machines around the world during the latest quarter, compared to 2.4 million the same period the previous year.

Sony hopes to sell 13 million PlayStation 3 consoles for the fiscal year through March 2010. But sales of its predecessor PlayStation 2 have been lagging, hurting profitability, it said.

FILE - In this Aug. 19, 2009 file photo, Sony Computer Entertainment Japan President Shawn Layden speaks on a new PlayStation 3 during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan. Sony reported Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, a smaller-than-expected 26.3 billion yen loss ($289 million) for the July-September quarter as healthy sales of its PlayStation 3 game consoles and Michael Jackson catalog recordings helped along a gradual recovery. Itsuo Inouye, FILE / AP Photo

Sony, which also makes Walkman portable music players and Bravia flat-panel TVs, had reported a 20.8 billion yen profit for the July-September period last year.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected a 40 billion yen loss ($440 million) for the July-September quarter this year and were expecting full year losses to be reduced to 89 billion yen ($978 million).

Quarterly sales plunged nearly 20 percent to 1.66 trillion yen ($18.2 billion) from 2.07 trillion yen the same period the previous year. The global slowdown dragged on consumer spending and the strong yen pushed down overseas sales when translated into yen.

Sony said its Vaio PC business took a hit from flagging global sales and the yen. But its financial services division boosted sales amid solid investments at insurer Sony Life as the Japanese stock market recovered.

Not so positive were results at its movie section which lacked major theatrical releases except for "District 9" and "Julie & Julia," according to Sony.

The company booked equity-related losses for poor results at joint ventures, including Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, which makes cell phones, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and S-LCD Corp., which makes flat-panel TVs with South Korean rival Samsung Electronics Co.

For the first six months of the fiscal year, Sony lost 63.4 billion yen ($697 million yen), a reversal from a 55.79 billion yen profit for the first half of fiscal 2008, on 3.261 trillion yen ($35.8 billion) sales, down 20 percent from the previous year.

Sony shares, which nose-dived to about 1,500 yen ($16) earlier this year, gained 2.8 percent to close at 2,785 yen ($30) in Tokyo.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Toyota pushes hybrids with new model

Toyota Motor Corp is ramping up its push on gasoline-electric hybrids, launching a new model in Japan and taking on up-and-coming competitor Hyundai Motor Co in its Korean home market with its flagship Prius.

Toyota said on Tuesday it aims to sell 36000 units a year of its new Sai hybrid sedan in Japan, taking another step towards its goal of selling 1 million hybrid vehicles annually worldwide soon after 2010.

The Sai sedan is the second hybrid-only model under the Toyota brand after the Prius, and is a repackaged version of the Lexus HS250h hybrid, which went on sale in June.

Toyota also on Tuesday launched its brand in South Korea, a market dominated by Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors Co, first with the Prius and Camry hybrids, as well as the RAV4 sports utility vehicle and non-hybrid version of the Camry, its most popular sedan.

Hyundai has been grabbing market share globally from Toyota and other major automakers, winning over customers with its line of cheap, fuel efficient models and catchy marketing campaigns.

In July, Hyundai unveiled its first hybrid car, which uses liquefied petroleum gas, in the South Korean market and is due to launch its first gasoline-electric hybrid, a version of the flagship Sonata, in the latter half of 2010.

Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, is miles ahead of competitors in the fast-growing hybrid field, which has enjoyed tailwinds especially in Japan thanks to generous subsidies and reduced taxes on cleaner cars.

It expects to sell 500,000 to 600,000 hybrid vehicles globally this year, while facing a short-term battery supply bottleneck for anything further.

“The introduction of the Toyota brand into South Korea is aimed to meet the diversifying needs of consumers in this growing market,” Toyota Executive Vice President Yukitoshi Funo told a news conference.

“We intend to make every effort to contribute to South Korean society and earn a loyal following.” Toyota expects to sell a combined 500 vehicles per month initially, aiming to raise that to a still-modest 700 units beginning in 2010.

The Sai, which will go on sale in Japan on Dec. 7, starts at 3,38 million yen ($37290), compared with the Lexus HS250h’s starting price of 3,96 million yen.

The Sai has a listed mileage of 23 km/litre (54 mpg), or twice that of a comparable gasoline car, chief engineer Shigeru Nakagawa told a news conference.

Toyota said it had no plans to export the Sai, which will be built by unit Toyota Motor Kyushu in southern Japan.

Toyota said the Sai concept was derived from a Japanese character meaning talent and coloration.

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Electric cars to be big draw

TOKYO - MOVE over hybrids - the biggest buzz at this year's Tokyo Motor Show looks set to come from electric cars as the dream of affordable zero-emission vehicles moves closer to reality.

Japanese automakers, pioneers in hybrid cars powered by a mixture of petrol and electricity, are now looking to take fuel-efficient motoring to the next level with vehicles that run on rechargeable batteries.

Nissan will put its electric car, the Leaf, on display to the public for the first time at the Tokyo Motor Show, which kicks off on Wednesday with press previews and opens to general visitors on Saturday.

The mid-sized hatchback, which will go on sale in late 2010 in Japan, is billed by Nissan as 'the world's first affordable, zero-emission car.' It can travel more than 160 kilometres on a single charge, at a top speed of 140 kilometres per hour.

The world's largest automaker Toyota, which has said it aims to launch an electric vehicle by 2012, will display a new version of its electric concept car - the FT-EV II - at the show.

'We think the time is almost ripe for cost levels, batteries and performance to evolve one step further,' said Toyota's Akihiro Yanaka, who oversees the project. -- AFP


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Latest Typhoon Kills 4 in Philippines, Churns Away

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines military rushed Sunday toward villages cut off by floodwaters from Asia's latest deadly storm, which killed at least four across the northern part of the country but spared the capital.

Typhoon Parma was churning through the South China Sea as troops in southern Taiwan helped to evacuate villages that could be hit next. The Central Weather Bureau said Parma should miss the island, but it could still bring heavy rain to flood- and landslide-prone areas still recovering from a deadly typhoon in August.

Tens of thousands of Filipinos fled to higher ground as Parma bore down on the main island of Luzon just eight days after an earlier storm left Manila awash in the worst flooding in four decades, killing almost 300 people.

Winds of 108 mph (175 kph) battered towns in half a dozen provinces, and downpours swelled rivers to bursting, officials said.

In Isabela province, one man drowned and another died from exposure to the cold and wet weather, said Lt. Col. Loreto Magundayao of an army division based there.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council said another two people died in eastern Camarines Sur, as one man fell from a roof and a 2-year-old boy drowned.

About 14 villages at the mouth of the Cagayan River were flooded when a seawall collapsed, forcing some residents to clamber onto their roofs, the mayor of nearby Aparri town told The Associated Press.

"A few of these floods were at roof level," he said. "Some people were on roofs and some of them were evacuated last night, but the rescuers were not able to reach others immediately."

The navy was bringing rubber boats to try to rescue people still stranded, he said.

Power, phone lines and internet links were down across the north, making it difficult to get reports about the extent of damage, Armand Araneta, a civil defense official responsible for several northern provinces, told the AP.

"We really got the brunt of the wind," he said by phone from Tuguegarao city, capital of Cagayan province. "Many trees fell here. The winds knocked down cables, telephone lines — even our windows got shattered by the strong winds."

Manila escaped the worst of the storm. On Sept. 26, Tropical Storm Ketsana killed at least 288 people and damaged the homes of 3 million. Ketsana went on to kill 99 in Vietnam, 14 in Cambodia and 16 in Laos.

Parma was part of more than a week of destruction in the Asia-Pacific region: an earthquake Wednesday in Indonesia, a tsunami Tuesday in the Samoan islands, and Ketsana.

Another typhoon, Melor, was churning Sunday in the Philippine Sea, 1,600 miles (2,575 kilometers) to the east.


Nissan's electric vehicle tilts into corners

ATSUGI, Japan — Nissan's Land Glider electric vehicle tilt from side to side, sashaying into curves by up to a 17-degree angle, as though showing off in a fashion declaration that it's zero-emissions.

The wheel segments of the car can move separately from the cabin, allow the car, still an experimental concept model, to sway and swerve, almost like a motorcycle.

Nissan Motor Co. project design director Takashi Nakjima says Land Glider is designed to be a "personal city commuter."

In a demonstration for reporters, the car glided roughly on a test course at Nissan's design center, outside Tokyo, leaning slowly to one side, and then the other, as it turned tight corners.

Just 110 centimeters (43 inches) wide, Land Glider has sensors to calculate speed and level of lean required for corners, and can maneuver through narrow streets and fit into tight parking spaces, according to Yokohama-based Nissan.

People aboard sit in a line, one behind the other, not next to each other as in traditional two-seaters.

Reporters got a preview look of the "concept model" but no test drive, of the Land Glider. There are no immediate plans for profit-making production.

It will have its world premiere at the Tokyo Motor Show, opening to media Oct. 21, two days before its formal opening. The show runs through Nov. 4 in the Tokyo suburb of Chiba.

Japanese rivals Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. are also showing nifty electric vehicles at the show.

Toyota's FT-EV II has a roomy cube design, a relatively conventional look for electric cars. But Honda's EV-N is small and cute with an intentionally old-fashioned car shape.

"We feel exploratory efforts in electric vehicles have entered a new stage" with Land Glider, Nakajima said.

Japanese automakers say electric vehicles will largely be used initially for limited range, commuter travel.

Nissan is among the first to offer an electric vehicle, set to go on sale in Japan, the U.S. and Europe next year — the rather regular-looking Leaf.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

U.S. Seeks to Ban Texting for Some Drivers

The Obama administration said Thursday it will seek to ban text messaging by interstate bus drivers and truckers and push states to pass their own laws against driving cars while distracted.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the administration also would move to put restrictions on cell phone use by rail operators, truck drivers and interstate bus drivers.

"Driving while distracted should just feel wrong - just as driving without a seat belt or driving while intoxicated," LaHood said at the end of a two-day conference on the problem. "We're not going to break everyone of their bad habits - but we are going to raise awareness and sharpen the consequences."

As a first step, LaHood said President Barack Obama signed an executive order late Wednesday banning all federal workers from texting while driving on government business, driving government vehicles or using government equipment.

The administration also will push to disqualify school bus drivers who are convicted of texting while driving from keeping their commercial driver's licenses.

Researchers, safety groups, automakers and lawmakers gathered to discuss the perils of distracted driving, hearing sobering data from the government that underscored the safety threat as more motorists stay connected with cell phones and mobile devices.

The Transportation Department reported that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes connected to driver distraction, often involving mobile devices or cell phones. Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and was more prevalent among young drivers.

Senate Democrats said support was building in Congress to move against text messaging by drivers. The legislation, pushed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.

"It's like driving with your eyes closed," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a proponent of a texting ban.

LaHood declined to endorse Schumer's bill, saying simply that the administration would work with Congress. Many states have questioned the use of so-called "sanctions" against states that do not pass laws sought by Congress, especially during tough economic times.

"The words 'federal mandate' and 'federal sanctions' do not play well," said Bruce Starr, an Oregon state senator who attended the conference.

Eighteen states and the federal enclave of Washington, already have passed laws making texting while driving illegal, and seven states and the Washington have banned driving while talking on a handheld cell phone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Many safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on using any handheld mobile devices while behind the wheel.

The conference attracted families of victims of accidents caused by distracted driving, who urged the government to take a strong stance against cell phone use in vehicles, whether it includes a handsfree device or not. They said technologies that prevent the mobile device from receiving e-mails or phone calls while the vehicle is in motion could help address the problem.